PULLMAN – D.J. Shelton’s first 3-point attempt hit the rim, the top of the backboard, and in the words of coach Ken Bone, “maybe the flag,” before falling into the basket. His next three were never in doubt.
But not even Shelton’s sweet shooting was enough to prop up the Washington State offense as the Cougars fell 66-55 to Oregon State in a Pac-12 men’s basketball game in front of 2,632 fans at home Wednesday night.
“It was a good opportunity, playing on our home court against a team that came in with a record of 2-3 (in conference),” Bone said. “But definitely an opportunity to play somebody on our home court and get a win and we were not able to pull it out.”
The senior forward scored a career-high 24 points to go with 10 rebounds and freshman Que Johnson added 15 points. Shelton made 10 of 15 shots, imploring his teammates to “give me the ball,” and let him shoot them to victory.
But the rest of the Cougars chipped in just 16 total points, and Shelton’s heroics were surpassed by OSU’s Roberto Nelson, who poured in 26 points for the Beavers (11-7, 3-3 Pac-12).
The game was close throughout, but seemingly every time Shelton would hit a big shot to get the Cougars close, the Beavers would respond.
“Yeah, it was very frustrating,” Shelton said. “It would just be a little thing, like a rebound we couldn’t dig out and they’d get an and-one. If we’d cleaned that up we could’ve made a good run.”
Including injured guard DaVonte Lacy, the Cougars (8-11, 1-6 Pac-12) have had six different players score 20 or more points this season. But the supporting cast has too often been unable to help the hot-handed player, and night’s like Shelton’s have gone to waste.
“It’s a huge concern, huge concern,” Bone said. “You can’t just have one or two guys. That’s why we’re all anxious to get DaVonte back; he’s a guy that was consistently scoring at a pretty high rate. You get him back out and I think that opens it up for other guys.”
The Beavers took control early thanks to forward Angus Brandt, who made four quick shots as OSU jumped out to a 14-9 lead. Johnson did his best to match, scoring 10 in the first half, but the Cougars still went into the locker room trailing 33-27.
Getting to the foul line was once again an elusive proposition for the Cougars, who took just four free-throws in the game. It is the third time in WSU’s last five games that they have attempted five or fewer foul shots, although they attempted 22 and 28 in the other games.
Conversely, the Beavers made 19 of 27 free throws, with Nelson hitting 11 of 15.
Those trips to the line proved to be the difference. Both teams shot well, with the Beavers hitting 52.5 percent of their shots and the Cougars making 24 of 48 thanks to Johnson and Shelton’s hot shooting. Shelton entered the game having made just 8 of 47 3-point attempts this season, and just 1 of 7 in Pac-12 play.
After struggling early in the season, it appeared the senior – who coaches and teammates maintain has one of the finest strokes on the team – had elected to forego the 3-pointer. But Wednesday’s performance indicates that it is once again part of the Cougar’s arsenal.
“I just started hitting shots and I just let the game come to me,” Shelton said. “I didn’t force anything; coach didn’t run (any) special plays. I just was open and took good shots and they went in.”